Fred B. Craddock: Zechariah the servant and Elizabeth the supporter

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Fred B. Craddock: Zechariah the servant and Elizabeth the supporter

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. Luke 1:5-6

“Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were of Aaron’s line… The couple lived in the hill country (Luke 1:39), but housing in the temple was available for priests on duty…Zechariah’s division is on duty, and within the division Zechariah is chosen by lot (a method for discerning God’s will, Acts 1:26) to burn incense on the altar within the Holy Place. The people attending the hour of prayer wait for the priest’s reappearance and his blessing…The couple are of Aaron’s line, Zechariah is a priest, they are blamelessly pious in all of God’s commands and ordinances, and the word of God comes in the temple.”

Fred B. Craddock in Luke (Interpretation; Louisville: WJKP, 2009) 25-26.

This couple represents number five of ten individuals or couples in the New Testament that we highlighted this past weekend at the CBMC retreat. We described them as Zechariah the servant and Elizabeth the supporter.

Zechariah’s call to duty likely meant that life went on hold. When he also was chosen by lot to burn the incense it positioned him to serve as the conduit for delivering God’s blessing to the people. Undoubtedly his service was only possible with support from his wife, Elizabeth.

To say that they were blameless is not to imply perfection but rather people of integrity. They were set apart and available for God and His service. When their number was called, they stepped forward. Is God calling you to a season of service to be a conduit of blessing?

To say that He was picked by lot points to the working of God’s providence. It was no accident. Sometimes God does the same for us. He calls us to relocate, to adjust our priorities and time. Why? He may just want us to bless large numbers of people through solitary service.

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Paul D. Gardner: Chloe’s people

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 1 Corinthians 1:11

“In 1 Corinthians the listing of names such as “Chloe’s people,” Fortunatus, Achaicus, and Stephanas, may also indicate wealthier Christian business people with wide-ranging business interests… The news that has been delivered to Paul is serious and is the immediate cause of the letter, but Paul still speaks to them as his Christian family. Notice the insertion on this occasion of my brothers [and sisters]. The news Paul has received can be trusted because it has been delivered by people he and, presumably, the Corinthians knew. Though there is nothing in the text to give us any information about “Chloe’s people” by whom the news was delivered to Paul, it is reasonable to assume that Chloe was known in the church and probably a businesswoman based either in Ephesus or Corinth, whose emissaries traveled for her on business and were trusted by Paul. They may have been her slaves or employees. Nothing more is known of Chloe.”

Paul D. Gardner in 1 Corinthians (ZECNT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018) 26, 79.

The fourth in a series of ten less prominent New Testament characters which exhibit generosity is Chloe. From this limited information we know that her communication would become the occasion for the letter we know as 1 Corinthians. Her people delivered word of the various dynamics in play in Corinth. In plain terms, she felt Paul needed to know what was going on.

What can we draw from this for modern application? Chloe cared, but did not stop there. She communicated through the network she could mobilize that things were not right. Issues needed to be addressed. It’s easy to be silent in a world filled with troubles. We can be tempted to think, “What difference will my efforts make?” Not Chloe.

She cared and communicated. What about you? What around you is not right? Is it time to marshal the resources in your stewardship to make a difference? I write this not because of what I want from you, but because of what I want for you. As part of God’s story, your role might be to care and communicate, and in so doing, help many align their lives with Christ.

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David E. Garland: Theophilus the most excellent

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:1-4

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach. Acts 1:1

“The phrase “most excellent Theophilus” can be translated “your Excellency” and refer to a high official of some kind. It has this meaning in Acts in the tribune Claudius Lysius’ letter to the governor Felix (Acts 23:26), in Tertullus’ address to the governor (Acts 24:3), and in Paul’s address to the governor Festus (Acts 26:25). Some infer from these instances that Theophilus is also a Roman official and that Luke writes a defense of the Christian movement to appeal for help.

While Theophilus may be an official and certainly has high status, it is improbable that Luke writes an official defense of Christianity or of Paul. Though the opening paragraph is directed to Theophilus, the rest of the gospel is directed to the general reader. Luke explicitly states that his purpose is not to provide “definite information about a story” but to convey “the certainty or trustworthiness of a story” that Theophilus has been taught. Why would a disinterested Roman official want to wade through two volumes to find out about Christians unless he already was one himself?

It is more likely that this phrase is a polite form of address that means “most excellent.” Josephus uses the same term in his preface to Against Apion to salute his patron who enabled him to write and publicly distribute the work… In my view, Theophilus is the patron who provided funds to publish and distribute Luke-Acts. I assume, then, that he is a Christian, and the Gospel and Acts will convince him (and others) of the reliability of what he has been taught and believed… It may [also] explain the warnings in Luke about the dangers of wealth that is not used rightly.”

David E. Garland in Luke (ZECNT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011) 55-56.

Our weekend is going well at this CBMC gathering. We appreciate your prayers. Thanks for your positive feedback via emails saying you want to hear about all ten characters we will highlight. Here’s number three on the list of less known New Testament supporters of God’s work.

Ancient sources link Theophilus to a person of status in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. As Luke the author of Luke-Acts came from Antioch, this view seems probable. However, others link this character to Theophilus ben Ananus, the high priest in Jerusalem from A.D. 37-41.

As Theophilus was common in antiquity, with the limited evidence we have, we cannot locate Him with certainty. But what we can say is that he likely commissioned and underwrote the publication of the trustworthy two-volume account of Jesus and the early church, known to us as Luke-Acts.

Are you Theophilus? Has God has resourced you to tell the story of Jesus and His followers. This might take the form of supporting a modern day worker like Luke to pour time and energy into a gospel effort that touches an unreached people group or that helps a specific audience grow in the faith.

Are you a person of “most excellent” status? People of high rank can use that status to be served or they can follow the subversive example of Jesus and serve instead. What might it look like for you to use your power or privilege to promote the Name that is above all names?

Everyone is a part of God’s story. The reason that Jenni and I like to recount these New Testament characters is so people will consider what they will do with the time and resources they have in the moment they find themselves in God’s unfolding story. We aim to inspire them toward generosity. What will be said of you?

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F. F. Bruce: Gaius the host

Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Romans 16:23a

“There is much to be said for the identification of Gaius with Titus Justus who extended hospitality of his house to Paul and his hearers when they were expelled from the synagogue next door (Acts 18:7). ‘Gaius Titius Justus’ would then be his full designation (peaenomen, nomen gentile, and cognomen) as a Roman citizen (a citizen of the Roman Colony of Corinth). Gaius was, in any case, one of Paul’s first converts in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14).”

F.F. Bruce in The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary (TNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 265.

Jenni and I have arrived at the CBMC Presidential’s Council Retreat in Hot Springs, Virginia (pictured above). This weekend we will highlight ten New Testament servants who generously participated in God’s work of whom we have limited information. We will share what is known to encourage people to follow their example.

Don’t miss all that is said about Gaius the host. At least four noteworthy traits surface. Firstly, he was a fearless worshipper of God. Luke reports that when Jews opposed and insulted Paul in the synagogue, Gaius welcomed him into his home next door. His allegiance to God was more important than his local reputation.

Secondly, like Paul, Gaius was a Roman citizen. People were either born with this status, they could buy it at a high price, or they could get it through extended military service. Citizenship allowed a person to vote and own property among other privileges. Notice, Gaius used his property to host Paul and the whole church.

Thirdly, he was one of Paul’s first converts in Corinth. While on mission, Paul most assuredly prayed for fruit that would last. He wanted people to stand firm in the faith despite the growing opposition. That’s what Gaius did. The faith of many (back then and now) tends to grow cold over time. Not Gaius!

Lastly, in today’s Scripture we see that Gaius hosted Paul and company while they drafted the letter to the church in Rome or “Romans” as we call it. This was not a small undertaking and likely took weeks or even months. What we see here is a generous giver who uses his place and finances to underwrite mission.

Will you be like Gaius? So your faith stays fervent and your impact is widely felt, put to work the resources you have to host and underwrite gospel efforts. Use what status or privilege you enjoy not for personal gain but for serving others. Do this and, like Gaius, you will find yourself right in the middle of God’s story.

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Douglas J. Moo: Phoebe the patron

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Romans 16:1-2

“A “patron” was one who came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before local authorities. Cenchreae’s status as a busy seaport would make it imperative that a Christian in this church take up this ministry on behalf of visiting Christians. Phoebe, then, was probably a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the services of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support. Paul now urges the Romans to reciprocate.”

Douglas J. Moo in The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 916.

Today Jenni and I fly to Washington D.C. to attend and speak at the CBMC Presidential’s Council Retreat in Hot Springs, Virginia this weekend. Among other responsibilities, we plan to highlight ten servants named in the New Testament whose generosity fueled mission but whose reputations are not widely known. Our aim is to inspire others to follow their example.

Phoebe, the deaconess (cf. 1 Timothy 3:11) and patron, ranks among the ladies Jenni will highlight. Why does Phoebe get this formal commendation from Paul? We surmise from this internal attestation that we have her to thank for delivering the letter we know as “Romans” from the home of Gaius in Corinth to the church in Rome. This would have been no small undertaking.

While we don’t know her travel route, as the crow flies it’s over 600 miles or 1,000 kilometers over land and sea from Greece to Italy. Perhaps she was a seasoned traveler and up for the challenge. Undoubtedly, she invested time, energy, and money on the trip. So, Paul wanted them to receive her warmly, even as she had a reputation for receiving others. How does Phoebe relate to us and our generosity?

Jenni plans to challenge women to follow her example of active hospitality and service. This comes into view as putting God’s resources to work locally to extend hospitality and globally to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s easy for our participation in the gospel to be passive: to go to church, drop a check in the offering, slip out the back of the assembly, and go on with life. Not Phoebe!

While many patrons want to remain ensconced in comfort and not get their proverbial hands dirty, she appears to take on the hardest of assignments. During a time of rising Roman opposition against Christianity, I envision her delivery of “Romans” as a bit of a “Mission Impossible” adventure. The Lord only knows. What we do know is that Paul wants the church in Rome to care for her needs upon arrival!

If you want to be like Phoebe the patron, get out of your comfort zone and, as God leads, put the resources you have to work to serve others locally and advance the gospel globally. Regardless of the risk, you will experience sweet fellowship and find joy on the journey. Can you imagine what it must have been like to host Paul as Phoebe did? You can, at least in present times, by hosting and serving God’s workers generously.

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Michael Schut: Worldview and Simplicity

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Revelation 3:17-18

“Worldview essentially provides us with a way of understanding and organizing our lives and making sense of the larger world… Our worldviews are constructed for us by the particular family, religious institution, and culture in which we live. In other words, our worldviews are inherited… Our worldviews also significantly influence our attitudes toward simplicity and the connotations the word brings to mind.

For example, those a attending a church emphasizing wealth (and often conspicuous consumption) as a sign of “God’s blessing” might look at simplicity, at best, a curious phenomenon if not a threatening absurdity. For those attending a church emphasizing God’s justice and love and Christ’s life of service on behalf of the poor, a move toward simplicity might seem an act of solidarity and an expression of compassion. Others may perceive simplicity as forced asceticism, a necessary path required by a demanding, punishing God. Finally, some may perceive simplicity as a move toward greater freedom and a grateful response to the beauty and mystery of God-given life.

No matter the view, to the extent that the church has been co-opted by the “American dream of success,” a move toward simplicity will require not only swimming against the materialism of our society, but also against the simplicity, if not explicit, message of many of our churches.”

Michael Schut in “Worldview as Inheritance” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, ed. Michael Schut (New York: Morehouse, 2008) 191-193.

The ECFA Church Excel advisory board has learned that we cannot expect churches to welcome free resources for strengthening church administration or for enhancing facets of financial stewardship. Why? The worldview they inherited often shapes how they see and do things and may even prohibit necessary change.

Most are content with the status quo which has often been determined by historical tradition rather than biblical truths, and consequently, their inherited worldview and practices actually serve to inhibit their flourishing. Most only change when forced to, often as a result of a crisis.

Today’s Scripture highlights the letter to the church in Laodicea. Over time, their view of money had become just like the world. They were the wrong kind of rich, and Christ counseled them to shape up! This  aserves as wake-up call for that church (and churches like it) to get their view of material and spiritual wealth straight.

In today’s post, Schut cites examples of churches with different views and how that influences their view of simplicity, and may actually be what keeps them from living it out biblically and Christianly. What’s my point? With Schut I want to alert churches to assess if they have become like the world rather than the Word.

To this end, I urge all churches to subscribe to free Church Excel resources and larger churches to apply for ECFA certification. Why? When we collectively follow standards of responsible stewardship aligned with biblical rather than inherited worldviews, we preserve God’s honor and we help our fellowships flourish.

And, more importantly, we prepare to give an account for our stewardship. When I fly home from Indianapolis later today, and look down on the earth below, I will have a profound picture of reality. Christ is watching us to see whether our actions will match the inherited notions of society or the Scriptures.

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Henri Nouwen: Time and Opportunity

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

“In our contemporary society it often seems that not money but time enslaves us. We say, “I wish I could do all the things that I need to do, but I simply have no time. Just thinking about all the things I have to do today makes me tired: writing five letters, visiting a friend, practicing my music, making a phone call, going to class, finishing a paper, doing my meditation.” Indeed it seems that many people feel that they no longer have time, but that time has them…

The contemplative life is…to start seeing that the many events of our day, week, or year are not in the way of our search for a full life, but the way to it… We discover that writing letters, attending classes, visiting people, and cooking food are not a series of random events which prevent us from realizing our deepest self, but contain in themselves the transforming power we are looking for…

In Jesus’ life every event has become opportunity. He opens His public ministry with the words, “The time has come” (Mark 1:15) and lives every moment of it as opportunity… This is really good news… We no longer need to run from the present in search of the place where we think life is really happening. We can see in the center of the present the first manifestation of the kingdom. Now boredom can no longer exist, since every moment is filled with infinite meaning. Time becomes transparent.

The contemplative life is not a life that offers a few good movements among many bad ones; it transforms all of our time into a window which makes the invisible world visible… It hardly needs to be said that it belongs to the core of all ministry to make time transparent for each other such that in the most concrete circumstances of life we can see that our hour is God’s hour and that all time is therefore opportunity.”

Henri Nouwen in “Contemplation and Ministry” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, ed. Michael Schut (New York: Morehouse, 2008) 52-58. I got back to Denver last night and on the trees in the shade you can still see the signs of the first snow that came this past weekend.

Today I fly to Indianapolis to attend the ECFA Church Excel Advisory Committee Meetings. Speaking of opportunity, click to view the free resources developed for faithful church administration, and spread the word about this website to the administrators of your church. Now, back to the point of this post.

We must see time rightly to grow in generosity. My students often refer to stewardship of time, talent, and treasure. Don’t do that! I graciously correct them, saying: just like whatever we think we own, actually enslaves us, those who think they possess time, actually become enslaved by it.

As Nouwen notes, those who succumb to such thinking (that they possess time) never feel like they have enough time. What’s worse is that this thinking causes them to fall into the trap of never fully living in the present. Thus, they miss out on the opportunities God sets before them. So what should we do?

Make the most of every opportunity to live generously in the present for God! Live this way with intentionality. If you don’t, even as those who think they own money (forgetting that God owns everything) never feel like they have enough money, you will never feel you have enough time to live generously.

We must deploy ourselves and the resources God has entrusted to us in obedience right now. Also, because the days are evil (which basically means that few will follow this path), remind others that they will only discover that this path leads to life by taking it. And to best help others, lead the way yourself!

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William Stringfellow: Sacramental charity

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39

“The charity of Christians in the use of money sacramentally — in both the liturgy and in the world — has no serious similarities to conventional charity but is always a specific dramatization of the members of the Body of Christ losing their life in order that the world be given life. For members of the church, therefore, it always implies a particular confession that their money is not their own because their lives are not their own but, by the example of God’s own love, belong to the world.

That one’s own life belongs to the world, that one’s money and possessions, talents and time, influence and wealth, all belong to the whole world is, I trust, why the saints are habitués of poverty and ministers to the outcasts, friends of the humiliated and, commonly, unpopular themselves. Contrary to many legends, the saints are not spooky figures, morally superior, abstentions, pietistic. They are seldom remembered, much less haloed. In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect — that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”

William Stringfellow in “Money” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, ed. Michael Schut (New York: Morehouse, 2008) 71-72.

This meditation will post while I am on the long journey home from Seoul to Tokyo to Denver. It summarizes why Jenni and I love to extend sacramental charity to all those we serve whether we are in our neighborhood or all around the world.

Simply put, our lives are not our own, and because we relish life as a gift we realize the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away! And only when we actually do it, do we get a taste of what it means to be fully human. But that’s not even the best part.

What drives our enthusiasm is that this way of living is God’s design and desire for everyone. God wants every member of the Body of Christ to lose their life for the sake of Christ, because only then will they find it. We have discovered that you don’t figure it out until you live it out.

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Cecile Andrews: Laughter in Community

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Luke 6:21

“Like so many others, my husband and I wanted a greater sense of community in our lives. So we joined a book club. We managed to participate regularly for three years, but then we dropped out. We discovered we had begun to dread going.

Instead of an informal, supportive, conversational setting, the group created a pseudo-college English class. Each meeting got worse — I began to feel like my grade was on the line, that if I said something others thought was stupid, I would get a C minus. But this wouldn’t be just a grade. It would actually mean my friends would reject me…

So when my neighbors talked of starting a book club, I said no, no, no. We started a video club instead. On the last Friday night of each month, we gather together and watch a movie on video. Now, sometimes the pressure’s on to select a video that everyone likes, but at least our friendship isn’t on the line.

What we do in the video group that we had quit doing in the book club is laugh. That’s the absolute basic requirement for me in community. If we’re not laughing, I’m not going to do it.

Laughing means people are enjoying each other. It brings a state of felicity, of delight. You feel glad to be alive and you think, this is it! You just don’t need much more than this — a group of friends enjoying each other.

But laughter is really an indicator of something more basic: of people accepting each other. You are valued because you are alive, not because of how much money you earn or how big your house is. When we have that sense of being valued, of being connected, we don’t live lives of consumerism and ambition. We don’t need to prove that we have worth…

We must have a group of people to whom we can express our true selves. We must have a group of caring people who affirm our true selves… There will be different kinds of communities. There is potential for community at work, in your church, in your neighborhood, and in your professional organizations.”

Cecile Andrews in “Building Community” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, ed. Michael Schut (New York: Morehouse, 2008) 207-208.

For Jesus, laughter in community is the picture of delight that we can anticipate together with Him in the kingdom. I got a foretaste of it both on my travels to the Philippines over past two weeks and this weekend in the fellowship I enjoyed with the Sarang New Harvest Ministry family on our retreat here in South Korea.

A leading hindrance to generosity is living in the false self. Let me explain. When we live to please others rather than to please God, we spend money on things to attempt to build up our identity and create community. Sadly, such efforts leave us empty rather than enriched, so we miss out on the community we long for and we waste God’s money in the process.

When, instead, we live as our true selves, we find the community we need, we laugh more, and we reflect God’s generosity. More times than I can count, I have been guilty of taking life too seriously. When I do, I don’t laugh enough, I become isolated, and God’s generosity certainly does not flow through me. Perhaps you are learning this too? So what should we do?

I am not saying to go start a book or video club. But I would suggest that you consider the circles in which you find yourself, like work, church, and your neighborhood, and create space in those places for laughter in community. This positions us to dispense generously the one thing everyone on the planet needs: love.

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William Gibson: Sufficiency

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:7-8

“Today’s massive facts concerning hunger, poverty, and ecological limits have discredited the myth that powerful private interests dedicated to growth automatically serve the public good… Suddenly Christians find themselves thrown back upon a much earlier assumption, one that permeates the entire biblical story: justice requires sharing, particularly with the alien, the fatherless, the widow, the innocent, the needy, the afflicted… A just and sustainable future for the entire world requires a new norm, the norm of sufficiency. Sufficiency must become the controlling consideration for lifestyles, for systems, and for synchronizing lifestyle changes with systemic changes… The aim of sufficiency is that everyone shall have enough of the things that are needed for a reasonably secure and fulfilling life.”

William Gibson in “The Lifestyle of Christian Faithfulness” in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective, ed. Michael Schut (New York: Morehouse, 2008) 132-133.

Cheerful, generous giving is rooted in the core reality that when we have Christ, we have all sufficiency. We have everything we need, have ever needed, and will ever need, so we can abound in sharing and caring. It sums up how we must be different from the world.

Sometimes our sharing and caring takes the form of hand-outs, like the collection for the starving Christians in Jerusalem in today’s Scripture, or sending support to hurricane or typhoon victims. That’s Good Samaritan giving. We attend to those who are suffering.

Other times we offer hand-ups to build disciples over time. For two examples, visit Visions of Hope (part of CCT) in the Philippines which seeks to reach, rescue, root, and restore children for Jesus, or Potter’s House of Guatemala. Join us in supporting both!

As I lead the retreat this weekend for Sarang New Harvest Ministry on praying Scripture and practicing spiritual disciplines, my aim is to help them find all sufficiency in the Word, our Lord Jesus. When our sufficiency is in Him, God supplies grace for us to abound in generosity.

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